Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sound Understanding

Making sense of sounds into meaning requires a different mental effort as compared to reading. Out of sounds, the mind tries to assemble the pieces and make sense of what is being said. The main challenge is that the sounds are often fleeting. One can always re-read the printed page as many times as he or she wants but one cannot ask the speaker to repeat as many times as one wants. Replaying the passages in the audio book may not really allow one to absorb as readily as one would want. Oftentimes, writing down notes or making a visual picture ala mind maps will aid in understanding a spoken lecture, for example. But the result is the same; making a visual record by putting pen to paper or typing into a computer screen.

People who are readers are often not good listeners. The problem starts when one needs to understand different voice inflections or accents or changes in tone to appreciate what is truly being communicated. The spoken word may change with the way one says it. So one can be sarcastic or ironic or serious or flippant but with the same passage of text. This variation in sound reveals the true intention of the speaker. There is no such discrepancy in the printed page. One can miss the point more with the spoken word. Some people are often called dyslexic if they fail to notice the nuances in the spoken word. The mental mechanism to transform sound may not be working as well as the mechanism for reading; i.e. the transformation of visual signs into meaning.

So developing one’s comprehension and cognitive abilities via listening is a challenge to some who are not used to this mode. I guess listening and speaking is an entirely new level for readers or writers. I guess this is the point of Toastmasters. But it is not only the improvement of public speaking that one improves but also listening and critical thinking skills when one does speech evaluation. Another benefit is the social interactions and networking that occur during the meetings. In this situation, visual cues and speech and sound processing is merged. It’s like watching a movie where the all main senses are engaged. But one needs to react and respond to the visual and sound stimulus. Awkwardness in responding to cues in the social situation makes one seem shy or an idiot. In fact it only takes practice.

Speaking with office mates when one has just recently moved from Asia is one such challenge. Understanding meaning in everyday interactions may come as a challenge. Perhaps it is the challenge of adapting to a different culture. But oftentimes it now seems like a global culture with English as the main language. But it’s different because the social backgrounds and frame of reference are different. Seeking common ground and compromise is perhaps the art of democracy and the key to achieving social cohesion from diverse cultures. Perhaps watching television or movies is a short cut to achieving this equilibrium. Frequent exposures to different cultures maybe a good thing as well.

Yesterday was the Super Bowl and I went to my friends house to watch the game. The New Orleans Saints won against Indiana Colts. Two couples joined us. Basically it was Americans with Filipino wives. It was an interesting mix because of the internationality of the gathering. For example, one couple worked for 8 years in Japan, while the other has lived in places like Singapore, Philippines, USA and France. I lived in Singapore as well for the past 7 years and lived in the Philippines before that. So it was a crowd that has seen the world and lived in different cultures. We all came together to watch the football event that seems to unite the whole country for a single night.

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